News

Massive wildfire prompts new travel restrictions

Massive wildfire prompts new travel restrictions

Firefighter Troy Drouin takes a short break before mopping up hot spots near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013. The giant wildfire burning at the edge of Yosemite National Park is 23 percent contained, U.S. fire officials said Wednesday. Photo: Associated Press/Jae C. Hong

By Laila Kearney

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Firefighters determined to keep a massive blaze from raging into the heart of California’s Yosemite National Park have shut down half of its main east-west corridor, just days before a holiday weekend marking the end of the peak summer tourist season.

A long stretch of Tioga Road through the western half of the park was closed on Wednesday as fire crews tightened their grip on the blaze, extending containment lines around 30 percent of the wildfire’s perimeter by the end of its 12th day.

The so-called Rim Fire has blackened about 192,500 acres, or more than 300 square miles, of dry scrub and timberlands, mostly in the Stanislaus National Forest west of the park. Its cause is still being investigated.

The firefighting force of more than 4,500 is backed by teams of bulldozers, water-dropping helicopters and airplane tankers carrying payloads of flame-retardant chemicals.

The battle inside Yosemite is focused largely on preventing flames from advancing any farther toward the core of the park, famed for its towering rock formations, waterfalls, meadows and pine forests.

Some 4 million people visit Yosemite each year, most of them during the peak months of June through August. Park officials said they have already noticed a decline in the crowds of visitors typically seen in late summer.

BIGGER THAN CHICAGO

With an overall footprint that exceeds the land mass of Chicago, the blaze ranks as the sixth-largest California wildfire on record.

As of Wednesday less than a quarter of the total burned landscape, about 43,000 acres, lay inside Yosemite, confined to the northwest corner of the 750,000-acre park.

Earlier this week, flames closed in on the park’s Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which supplies 85 percent of the water consumed by San Francisco and several other communities some 200 miles to the west.

But utility officials said there was little risk to the artificial lake because of the rocky terrain and lack of brush surrounding it.

On the opposite end of the sprawling fire zone west of Yosemite, crews fought to keep flames away from some 4,500 homes in a string of small communities along the fringe of the Stanislaus National Forest, said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Dennis Matheson.

Most of those dwellings have been ordered evacuated or were under advisories urging residents to leave voluntarily or be ready to flee at a moment’s notice.

The fire has already destroyed dozens of homes and cabins, but no serious injuries have been reported.

DEFENDING YOSEMITE’S CORE

Matheson said rugged, hard-to-reach terrain was hindering efforts to carve additional fire breaks around the blaze, and he estimated it would take another week to fully enclose it.

“I think it’s very safe to say that we’re looking at least at the first week of September,” Matheson said. “A lot of it is footwork, creating containment lines by hand.”

The flames last week forced the closure of a stretch of Highway 120 that leads into the west side of the park and serves as the main gateway from the San Francisco Bay area.

On Wednesday, the closure was extended eastward along 120, also called Tioga Road, as far as Yosemite Creek midway through the park. But the rest of the road through Yosemite’s only east entrance remained open, along with two other gates that allow access from other directions in the southern half of the park.

The expanded closure of Highway 120 — the only east-west route that completely bisects the park — was imposed to allow fire crews to establish new containment lines along the road before the blaze approaches, said Yosemite spokesman Tom Medema.

“That will limit the access for visitors to and from the east side of the park, quite possibly over Labor Day weekend, which will have a significant economic impact on the area and (be)an inconvenience for visitors,” he said.

Several campgrounds and trails, along with two landmark groves of giant sequoia trees, also were closed to the public.

Firefighters also planned to burn containment lines from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir south to Tioga Road in a bid to keep the fire from creeping further east into the park, Medema said.

The blaze has been among the fastest-moving of dozens of large wildfires raging across the drought-parched U.S. West in recent weeks, straining national firefighting resources.

 

Recent Headlines

in Sports

Dustin Johnson takes leave of absence from golf

Fresh
Dustin Johnson of the US plays a shot on the 17th fairway during the second day of the British Open Golf championship at the Royal Liverpool golf club, Hoylake, England, Friday July 18, 2014.

In a statement Thursday from Hambric Sports Management, the 30-year-old Johnson said his leave of absence was effective immediately.

in Sports

Another decent start for Woods at Firestone

Fresh
Tiger Woods answers questions at his news conference during the final practice day for the Bridgestone Invitational golf tournament Wednesday, July 30, 2014, in Akron, Ohio.

Woods made six birdies Thursday to open with a 2-under 68 at the Bridgestone Invitational, just four shots behind Marc Leishman.

in National

Divided House abandons vote on border bill

immigration

Congress will take a five-week vacation without addressing the immigration crisis.

in Local Sports

M’s get CF Austin Jackson in 3-way deal with Tigers, Rays

Updated
Detroit Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson watches from the dugout against the Minnesota Twins in first inning of a baseball game in Detroit, Saturday, June 14, 2014.

Nick Franklin goes to Tampa in deal that sends David Price to Detroit.

in Local Sports

Lynch ends holdout, arrives at Seahawks camp

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, right, laughs as he stands with Marshawn Lynch at a football minicamp practice Tuesday, June 17, 2014, in Renton, Wash.

Marshawn Lynch has joined Seattle Seahawks training camp after missing the first week.